My Book!

 

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For a long time I wasn’t sure whether I was a writer who likes to sing or a singer, who also writes. I have been doing both for a long time and to be true singing was just one of my  writing projects that got out of hand. Basically, instead of writing a story about opera singers, I went about creating my own operatic voice.

I immersed myself in my music education, only occasionally devoting some time for creative writing. I could not write about singing because I kept discovering new things. But there was one project I kept at for quite a while. It is getting published on Kindle this week and the paperback version will soon follow.

It is not a book about music, although it features some singing characters. It was inspired by a friend telling me of a woman who lost her job, her health and her workers comp. I was disturbed by that story because I did not see what could become of her. So I created a possible follow up.

I kept going, I stopped, I picked up after long breaks. I procrastinated. I sang. I did some journalism, to see if I still had enough writing skill to get published in paper press. I did. I waited to feel more accomplished with my voice. When people started crying at my shows I ran out of excuses. I had to finish my book!

So I did.

It came almost as a shock. The difference between writing and having written a novel is fundamental. I felt at a loss. I had no more pages to fill, no more solitary sessions in a coffee shop to plan. I had to stop writing and start marketing. I was not ready for such a change.

So I procrastinated some more by making two versions of the book – in Polish and in English. Translating is a million, gazillion times easier than writing. Since English is my second language I invested in a professional editor. It was a wonderful experience. One of the things I learned was that in todays publishing one does not need a permission to become a writer. You just do it, put it out into the world and worry about agents and deals later.

I never planned to release the book in the US (actually, worldwide) a week after the final edit, but this is 21st century – things go fast!

So here it is, for all to love, hate or ignore, free on Kindle Unlimited for the next three months!

Hela: A Novel of Science, Faith, Love and Poland

Power Posture for Singers – Men

I was going to continue reviewing Leyerle’s book but cannot pass the opportunity to say some more about the issue of posture. What is the perfect posture for singing?  These days singers performing live on stage assume all sorts of positions, standing, lying down, dancing, even hanging down suspended from a bar, whatever the dramatic situation requires.

Anthony Ross Costanzo

 

However, in recital or auditions little acting is encouraged. I would not go as far as saying there is one “correct” position to deliver an aria or a song, but there are some that work better than others. Unfortunately, those are not the positions that you can find by googling “perfect posture”.

What you find instead are the positions of a character that goes to a doctor’s office and is asked to stand straight.

Doctor's office posture

 

Is any of it really useful? In my opinion it’s not. So is there a better way? Of course. Just learn from the masters. Let’s take a posture class from Placido Domingo.

This is what he does:

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This is a characteristic posture of a male lead in an opera. Some people find it old fashioned but it is still used by singers to deliver challenging arias. As you can see it consists of leaning forward on your “stronger” leg, slightly bent. Does he stand “straight”? Does he stand tall, “as if a suspended on a string from the crown of his head”? Certainly not!

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But he  is well balanced, grounded and expressive.

Let’s make his position into a diagram.

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Let’s remove the photo:

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Let’s simplify it still further and make it into a stick figure:

Now the diagram doesn’t show the arms, but gives you an idea how the singer holds himself, how he supports his body. The front leg carries most of the weight and is flexible. I left off the arms as they are used more for expression than balance.

So this is it, this is how Placido stands.

 

Well, not just him.  Look at Mick Jagger!

So the slightly forward leaning stance seems to be working for all kinds of singers.

 

 

Tenor Hak Soo Kim Sarasota Opera Blogspot

Their e is a reason for it. It makes singing easier. It takes care of itself, once established you don’t have to think about it.

Because of that it can be especially helpful for beginners. Once you can vocalize well in “Placido’s” position,  you can adjust it to the more elegant, modern recital pose.

Jonas Kaufman Sehnsucht Desire Munich

It is harder to maintain, but doable. At the end of the day a great singer can sing in any position.

So, look around YouTube and find some other singing masters. Look for live recitals and shows where camera captures the whole silhouette, from the head to the feet. Turn off the sound and just observe how they move.

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Hope this helps – if you don’t trust me, trust Placido and Mick!

Next time – best singing posture for women.  Stay tuned.

 

Photos: Anthony Ross Costanzo in Partenope, SF Opera, Huffington Post

Mick Jagger in concert with Taylor Swift , Nashville, Getty Images

Tenor Hak Soo Kim, Sarasota Opera 2012 sarasotaopera.blogspot.com

Russell Thomas as Pollione in Norma, SF Opera 2015, KQED broadcast April 2016

Videos:

Placido Domingo with Luciano Pavarotti at the MET in La Boheme (Domingo singing the baritone part of Marcello)

Jonas Kaufman German Arias recital in Munich (Munchner Rundfunkorchester)

Franco Corelli  in recital, Hamburg 1971

Doodling: Anna Samborska

 

 

Books on Singing – Leyerle

Can you learn singing from a book? Early in my studies I read quite a bit on vocal technique and I became convinced that you could not. Books can accompany your training when you have a real teacher that can always  get you back on track. I still believe this to be true.

However, recently I got curious about literature on voice, since the times are changing and new approaches and methods arise. It is never a waste of time to expand your vocal bag of tools!

I went and checked out the shelves at San Francisco Public Library.

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I started with the oldest one, Vocal Development through Organic Imagery by William D. Leyerle. It grabbed my attention since I also use “organic imagery” in my own method, although I call it visualization.

 

I both hate and love this book.

I hate it because on page 2 it has one of the most harmful pieces of misinformation. After discovering Esther Gokhale’s method and her insight into natural posture I just cannot stomach seeing images of anatomically wrong “flat back” being taught as useful for singers. The same piece of advice I got during my voice lessons at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. We had to assume the “supine position” flattening the small of the back on the floor, which made the pelvis go into posterior tilt. It looks ugly, it is uncomfortable and it makes singing harder. How did people come up with this idea and held on to it for so long, since I still see this diagram in countless versions in books and all over the internet?

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I cannot say that posture a. is any better, both are totally artificial.

 

Look at the real singers, how they stand,  and try to fit a wall to them!

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So, a lot to think about at just page two. Luckily, the rest of the book is much better and some diagrams and concepts are useful. I can imagine someone studying with this script and getting more clarity on resonance and registers. For me the most revolutionary info was about the “middle passaggio”. “Passaggio” is the transition point between lower and higher parts of the voice, a few notes which can be difficult. I knew about the “break” around E and F (top of the staff) and also about the upper limit of the chest voice around E (first line of the staff). But Leyerle talks also about another transition, around C:

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For years I had trouble navigating this spot, even while my higher notes soared with complete ease. Now I know why.

Of course knowing about problem spots doesn’t necessarily help to overcome them. On the daily basis I chose – and this is a legitimate approach according to Leyerle – to just ignore the registers and think of one, smooth quality of tone across the whole vocal range. When you believe in it, hear other singers do it just fine, you can do it too.

The most unusual think about this book are the “funny pictures”.

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They look like secret symbols or as cartoon characters from an avant-garde animation. They say “don’t judge the book by its cover” but in this case you could teach the whole Leyerle method from the cover of his work. I can see how these can make people find their sound and look for the right sensations in unexpected places, sometimes seemingly outside the body. They are in a way more practical that the usual cross-sections of the head and throat. I like how the author uses the term “focus” instead of placement. All these pointy triangles  are directing the attention of the singer to the “focal” spot, as if behind the neck. Such focus achieves two goals: 1) the singer imaging the voice coming from outside the body does not tense the body 2) stops the urge to “project” which for most people means the attempt to push the air outwards.

Another good point is Leyerle’s take on “raising the soft palate” – another opportunity for students to get stuck for years trying to lift something up their throats. For him this is  rather the expansion into the back of the throat, a much better image and direction of energy.

I have a bone to pick with him as far as his understanding of “support”.  I feel that his images are better than his words. He speaks of breath support but means “back support” – visualized in the shape of a dark cone – going around the back of the rib cage, around the diaphragm. This is ok. Any teacher that does not tell the students to “push with their diaphragm” has my respect!

TBCnd

 

 

 

21 Arias at Open Studios

  

  
Had a blast at Hunters Point today! As I’ve just calculated, I sang 21 “on demand” operatic arias over seven hours of the Open Studios. People wondered in and out into our building, some didn’t notice a character in a red dress, some thought it was a mannequin, and some actually dared to ask for an aria. I was able to fulfil most requests including “This is Prophetic” from Nixon in China. Glad to meet all sorts of people and chat with them on my favorite subject. One person asked for lieder and left disappointed, as I sing them with live piano so did not have any backing tracks. Something to think about for next time! 

Got lots of appreciation for the singing and the costume. I thought it might be a bit over the top but nothing is over the top in opera!

  

  

Art Show at Hunters Point this weekend


Come and enjoy the big yearly event – Hunters Point Fall Open Studios – while the studios in the historic US Navy buildings are still here. In a couple of years the buildings where  once the submarine crews pracriced their war arts and which are now a home of dozens of San Francisco artists and artisans will be demolished, making way to a shopping mall.

My show is more of a retrospective than a current exhibition – music these days takes up most of my creative time – but it might change.  Those who come this weekend might see some of the Buiding 115 secrets spots, as some of the spaces are offered for rental. Lots of work! Some singing might happen on demand, if the mood is right.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernal Opera in Palace on the Water, Warsaw

  

Summer vacation almost over. Poland was as usual busy and musical – four concerts, including two at the beautiful Łazienki Palace and park with wonderful pianist Zuzanna Całka. A dream come true!

   
 
I remember visiting the palace many times as a tourist or accompanying my dad, a restoration architect, when he had some professional business there. This time I was allowed into the part closed to the public – secret staircases, a glamorous dressing room for special guests… I am infinitely grateful to the last Polish king Stanislaw August for creating this beauty for generations to come! Not only did he hire the best artists but did some of the design himself. The acoustics in the ballroom was superb. Would love to come back!

 

Singing opera makes you grow taller

An amazing thing happened. I measured myself and discovered my real height is different from what is written in my driver’s license, it is 5’8″ not 5’7″.

I took the measurement on the hint from Esther Gokhale’s book (8 Steps to a Pain Free Back). She says if you practice her stretches you can “decompress” your spine and in fact grow taller.  My singing workout must have produced the same effect. This is really good news, given my family genetics. And I half expected, at my mature age, to already begin shrinking!

Bernal Opera at Everett School

Last Friday we made some sound at the Everett School Fundraiser. Several great acts from kids, teachers and parents; fantastic audience. For our part, we made some operatic sound, donated three voice classes and a house concert in the Silent Auction.
Kudos to the Talent Show committee headed by Roxy!